“Even after decades of imitators, bigger budgets and more advanced technology, Blade Runner still stands high as a groundbreaking, unparalleled masterpiece.” — Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner documentarian Charles de Lauzirika
The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 35th anniversary of the release of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s neo-noir sci-fi adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young and Edward James Olmos. [Read on here...]
Blade Runner, one of the most influential films ever made, opened in theaters 35 years ago this week.
For the occasion The Bits features a compilation of statistics, trivia and box-office data that places the movie’s performance in context; passages from vintage film reviews; a reference/historical listing of the film’s premium-format presentations; and, finally, an interview segment with a trio of film historians and documentarians who discuss the virtues, shortcomings and influence of Blade Runner.
BLADE RUNNER NUMBER$
- 0 = Number of weeks nation’s top-grossing movie
- 1 = Number of sequels
- 1 = Rank among top-earning movies of The Ladd Company’s 1982 slate
- 2 = Number of Academy Award nominations
- 2 = Rank among top-earning movies during opening weekend
- 4 = Rank among top-earning movies of Warner Bros.’ 1982 slate
- 4 = Rank among top-earning science-fiction films of 1982
- 9 = Number of months between theatrical release and home-video release
- 11 = Number of 70mm prints
- 13 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1982 (summer)
- 14 = Rank among top-earning R-rated films of 1982
- 16 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement
- 25 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1982 (rental; calendar year)
- 27 = Rank among top-earning movies of 1982 (gross; legacy)
- 1,295 = Number of opening-week engagements
- $29.98 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (videodiscs)
- $79.98 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (VHS and Beta)
- $4,749 = Opening-weekend per-screen average
- $1.5 million = Box-office gross (2007 Final Cut re-release)
- $3.7 million = Box-office gross (1992 Director’s Cut re-release)
- $6.2 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross
- $14.5 million = Box-office rental (domestic)
- $15.7 million = Opening-weekend box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
- $27.6 million = Box-office gross (1982 original release)
- $28.0 million = Production cost
- $32.9 million = Box-office gross (1982 + 1992 + 2007)
- $36.8 million = Box-office rental (adjusted for inflation)
- $71.0 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
- $78.2 million = Box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)
A SAMPLING OF MOVIE REVIEWER QUOTES
“The most astonishing look at the future ever put on film.” — California Magazine
“Blade Runner may be the wrong picture at the wrong time. Steven Spielberg has convinced us that extra-terrestrial creatures can be a boy’s best friend, and Star Trek II has us feeling optimistic about the future again. Science-fiction, in short, has never appeared rosier. So here comes Blade Runner, the gloomiest glimpse of things to come since A Clockwork Orange, and with none of the scalding humor that helped make that Stanley Kubrick classic watchable.” — George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Director Ridley Scott and his entire creative cadre have made an extraordinary-looking film that combines film noir and science fiction to probe a world where you can no longer tell who’s human any more. Every detail of the film’s environment is so seductively, splendidly and distractingly designed that it feels emperor’s new clothes-ish to point out that there is embarrassingly little else to the film.” — Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times
“Blade Runner is like science fiction pornography — all sensation and no heart.” — Pat Berman, The State (Columbia, SC)
“In the rush to view the future, Scott forgot that movies are not, contrary to the industry’s fondest hopes, made of stainless steel special effects, but of screenplays. There is no screenplay in Blade Runner, merely an idea extracted from the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that is buffered with a great deal of pretentious nonsense, and the sort of dialogue Mickey Spillane on a bad day would toss into the waste basket. “ — Ron Base, Toronto Star
“The scope and brilliance of Blade Runner’s vision is the good news. The bad news is that Blade Runner’s story is absolutely hopeless, a confusing tower of babble that has great gaps of logic, abysmal structure and cardboard characters… In an attempt to explain things, a voice-over narration by Deckard, a la Sam Spade, has been added, but Ford reads it as if he had just been handed the lines; he sounds flat, unconvincing. And while the explanation helps on a few items, it still cannot fill the many holes.” — Phil Kloer, The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union
“Hauer, who was a superb villain in the little-seen Nighthawks, again makes a charismatic menace, spewing hatred and bitterness that boil hotter with successive scenes. His final conflict with Ford is a test of human — and inhuman — endurance.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News
“Blade Runner is a handsome and imaginatively designed film. Indeed, so much care has been lavished on this bizarre and very convincing vision of urban America in 2019 that what the film looks like has taken precedence over what happens in it. This proves a great pity since Blade Runner is crammed with interesting and adult ideas and brims with the potential to be a truly memorable film.” — Desmond Ryan, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Scott is a master of production design, of imagining other worlds of the future (Alien) and the past (The Duellists). He seems more concerned with creating his film worlds than populating them with plausible characters, and that’s the trouble this time. Blade Runner is a stunningly interesting visual achievement, but a failure as a story.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
“Blade Runner is a triumphant blending of human drama and science fiction. It may not be a summer blockbuster — it won’t satisfy the young audience it needs for that — but it’s going to end up one of the summer’s, and maybe the year’s, best movies.” — Jack Mathews, Detroit Free Press
“Ridley Scott’s reported $30 million picture is a stylistically dazzling film noir set in November 2019 in a brilliantly imagined Los Angeles marked by both technological wonders and horrendous squalor.” — Variety
“Blade Runner, a grim sci-fi adventure set in the near future, looks terrific but is empty at its core. What’s missing? For starters, how about a story.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune
“If anybody comes around with a test to detect humanoids, maybe Ridley Scott and his associates should hide.” — Pauline Kael, The New Yorker
“[W]hat really irked me about Blade Runner was its seemingly tacked-on, totally superfluous, ‘Feel Good’ ending. After a depressing couple of hours at the movies, it’s even more depressing to see a director succumb to a last minute fear of being too depressing.” — Terry Kelleher, Miami Herald
“Science-fiction devotees may find Blade Runner a wonderfully meticulous movie and marvel at the comprehensiveness of its vision. Even those without a taste for gadgetry cannot fail to appreciate the degree of effort that has gone into constructing a film so ambitious and idiosyncratic. The special effects are by Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer, and they are superb. So is Laurence G. Paull’s production design. But Blade Runner is a film that special effects could have easily run away with, and run away with it they have.” — Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Directed by Ridley Scott, the Britisher who scored with Alien, the movie is too choked up with baroque space fantasy and heavy metal sci-fi, and it clunks along like the Incredible Hulk.” — Carol Olten, The San Diego Union
“For a movie so ingenious that movie fans really ought to see it, Blade Runner has a lot of problems. Alas, Harrison Ford is one. He’s a great Han Solo and an even better Indiana Jones. But he has a hard time pulling his weight in serious material like Force 10 from Navarone and Hanover Street. His narration is never quite right, and he sometimes seems ill at ease in his role. It could be that, like Cary Grant and Burt Reynolds, he needs to stick to material with some built-in lightness. Deckard is and should be a humorless character, but Ford seems not quite to know how to handle that.” — Ted Mahar, The (Portland) Oregonian
“In Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott stints on character development as though Harrison Ford were a star like Bogart, and the result is an underdeveloped hero. Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples give Ford plenty of tough/sensitive film noir hero lines to speak, but they come off as camp rather than homage.” — Scott Sublett, The Washington Times
“Although Blade Runner is captivating from a visual and clinical standpoint, it left me cold emotionally. Who should I root for, the replicants or the calculating humans who created them? Still, Blade Runner is the sort of picture that grows more fascinating after the fact, upon reflection. It deserves points for ingenuity and painting a stark picture of a future world where science has spun out of control. But while it is intriguing, Blade Runner is so bizarre that you may just have to live in the year 2019 to be able to appreciate it fully.” — Donna Chernin, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer
“Blade Runner misses a beat now and then, and it often fails to capitalize on its strongest points. But it’s the sort of offbeat, challenging science-fiction movie that develops cult followings.” — John Hartl, The Seattle Times
THE 70MM ENGAGEMENTS
Event and prestige movies (and instances to appease a filmmaker’s ego) on occasion are given a deluxe release in addition to a standard release. This section of the article includes a reference/historical listing of the first-run 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo premium-format presentations of Blade Runner in the United States and Canada. These were arguably the best cinemas in which to experience Blade Runner and the only way at the time to faithfully hear the movie’s discrete multichannel audio mix.
Of the 100+ new movies released during 1982, Blade Runner was among eighteen to have 70mm prints prepared for selected engagements. Only about a dozen of Blade Runner’s initial print run was in the deluxe 70mm format, which were significantly more expensive and more time- and labor-intensive to manufacture compared with conventional 35mm prints. Blade Runner was the second of four films by Ridley Scott to be released in the United States with 70mm prints.
The 70mm prints of Blade Runner were sourced from a mixture of blown up anamorphic 35mm principal photography and 65mm-originated visual effects and were intended to be projected in a 2.20:1 aspect ratio. The noise-reduction and signal-processing format for the prints was Dolby “A,” and the soundtrack was Dolby processor setting Format 42 (i.e. three discrete screen channels + one discrete surround channel + “baby boom” low-frequency enhancement).
Trailers for The World According to Garp and Night Shift circulated with the Blade Runner prints and which the distributor recommended be screened with the presentation.
The listing includes the 70mm engagements of Blade Runner that commenced June 25th, 1982*. Not included in this work are the moveover, second run, revival and international engagements (or any of the movie’s countless standard 35mm engagements).
*Prior to release there was a sneak preview test screening of a work-in-progress cut of the film on March 5th at the Continental in Denver and on March 6th at the Northpark in Dallas. A revised cut was previewed on May 8th at the Cinema 21 in San Diego. Additionally, in college towns during late May there was a series of National College Preview screenings. An invitational preview of the finished film was held June 18th at the Samuel Goldwyn in Beverly Hills.
So, for historical reference and nostalgia, the first-run North American theaters that screened the 70mm version of Blade Runner were….
- Corte Madera — Marin’s Cinema
- Los Angeles — Mann’s Bruin
- Los Angeles — Mann’s Hollywood
- Pasadena — SRO’s Hastings
- San Francisco — UA’s Coronet
- San Jose — Syufy’s Century 22 Triplex
- Denver — Commonwealth’s Cooper Twin
- Chicago — Plitt’s Esquire
- New York — Cinema 5’s Murray Hill
- New York — Moss’ Criterion Center 6-plex
- Seattle — SRO’s Cinerama
Chris Barsanti is the author of The Sci-Fi Movie Guide: The Universe of Film from Alien to Zardoz (Visible Ink; 2014). His other books include Filmology: A Movie-a-Day Guide (Adams Media; 2010), Handy New York City Answer Book (Visible Ink; 2017), and (with Brian Cogan and Jeff Massey) Monty Python FAQ: All That’s Left to Know about Spam, Grails, Spam, Nudging, Bruces, and Spam (Applause; 2017). He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, Online Film Critics Society and New York Film Critics Online, and has written for Film Journal International, Film Threat and The Hollywood Reporter.
Charles de Lauzirika produced the Blade Runner: The Final Cut restoration and is the producer-director of Dangerous Days: Making Blade Runner, the exhaustive documentary feature included in the package of value added material on the Blade Runner: The Final Cut DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases. Charles is an acclaimed film documentarian and DVD/Blu-ray producer with over 100 credits, including, in addition to Blade Runner, such essential and award-winning home video box sets as Twin Peaks, Prometheus and the Alien Anthology, along with many other releases including Top Gun, Kingdom of Heaven, and The Martian. He also produced the Star Wars: Launch Bay featurette which debuted at the Disney Parks in 2015. His feature directorial debut, Crave, starring Ron Perlman, was released in 2013, and won multiple awards at festivals around the world.
Paul M. Sammon is the author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (HarperPrism; 1996; and updated in 2007 and 2017). His other books include The Making of Starship Troopers (Berkley; 1997), Ridley Scott: The Making of His Movies (Close-Up Series; Da Capo; 1999), Alien: The Illustrated Screenplay (Orion; 2000), Aliens: The Illustrated Screenplay (Orion; 2001) and Conan the Phenomenon (Dark Horse; 2013). He has also written for American Cinematographer, Cinefex, Empire and the Los Angeles Times.
The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way should Blade Runner be remembered on its 35th anniversary?
Chris Barsanti: The word “visionary” gets thrown around a lot but I think it can be fairly attached to Blade Runner. It’s hard to remember in this day and age of non-stop spectacle filmmaking, what an incredible achievement it was in terms of its special effects and mood, which was arguably as influential on filmmakers as Metropolis and Things to Come. So I would say that it deserves to be remembered as a visionary spectacle that foresaw first a way to make the future look not just bleak in the manner of 1970s science fiction (think Soylent Green) but seductively corrupted, and also how our current filmmakers would mix and match genres (in this case, film noir and science fiction).
Charles de Lauzirika: Even after decades of imitators, bigger budgets and more advanced technology, Blade Runner still stands high as a groundbreaking, unparalleled masterpiece.
Paul M. Sammon: Thirty-five years after its (failed) initial release, I’d like to think that Blade Runner will be remembered as one of the best and most influential science-fiction films of the 20th century — and the 21st.
Coate: What did you think of Blade Runner? Can you recall your reaction to the first time you saw it?
Barsanti: I was probably more impressed with Blade Runner as a teenager than today; it has the kind of overarching grandiloquence that appeals to the adolescent mind. But despite its plot deficiencies, it still exerts a strong pull. I’m always interested in watching it again, which is something I cannot say for nearly any other movie, particularly one directed by Ridley Scott.
Lauzirika: I saw it on opening day at the Mann Hollywood and like many people, I was probably expecting something more along the lines of escapist popcorn entertainment. But also like many people, I left the theater grappling with a far more challenging and deeper artistic experience. But that’s the great thing about Blade Runner after all these years is that it has never stopped luring me into that dark, complicated world. I always get something new out of it.
Sammon: I had been fortunate enough throughout 1981-82 to see various rough cuts and pre-release versions of Blade Runner; therefore, I was the least objective viewer in the theater when I finally witnessed the Theatrical Cut, complete with its uneven narration and tone deaf happy ending, on Blade Runner’s opening day of June 25, 1982. I’d also previously seen a slightly different version during the San Diego sneak preview in May 1982, and had disliked what I considered to be its superfluous, poorly written voiceovers and inappropriate Ride-Into-the-Sunset back then. So I was hoping that those two elements might at least be dropped from the theatrical cut. They were not, and I was. Disappointed, that is. Also, in a certain sense, I guess that by having seen so much of the film prior to its official release, you could say that I was a little burnt out. Especially by the time I ultimately sat down to watch Blade Runner with an opening day audience.
I much more enjoyed being allowed to witness the physical filming, which stimulated my tactile senses along with my visual and auditory ones. Anyone who was on that Ridleyville backlot will remember what an immersive experience it was. The smoke, the endless detailing, the neon, the never-ending swirling rain bars; you literally felt as if you were in Los Angeles circa 2019. It smelled that way too.
Having said all this, it was obvious, even while peering through my haze of Blade Runner exhaustion, that Ridley Scott and Hampton Fancher and Vangelis and everyone else in Blade Runner’s cast and crew had created something utterly unlike anything else in theaters during the summer of 1982. Frankly, Blade Runner was a visual wipeout. Watching Blade Runner during its initial run on a big screen was like being swept away by a pictorial tsunami. And my opinion of the film has actually improved over the decades. Because as I’ve said many, many times, there is more to Blade Runner than meets the eye. Much more.
Pauline Kael, in her dismissive New Yorker review, complained that Blade Runner was all subtext and no text. I can agree with half of that statement, since so many changes were going on during production on both the narrative and the visual level that certain plot strands were ultimately either muddled or lost. But I have to absolutely disagree with Kael on Blade Runner’s subtexts. In my little opinion, it’s exactly those subtexts — such as what it means to be human, how we lead our lives in the face of certain extinction, and whether we as a species will ever acknowledge and reverse the slow suffocation of our environment — which rewards the curious viewer. Blade Runner is also a uniquely hypnotic film. No matter how many times I watch it, by the time Pris walks up to the Bradbury Building and Vangelis’ Blade Runner Blues starts playing, I realize, once again, that I’ve been totally sucked in.
Coate: In what way is Blade Runner significant?
Barsanti: It was possibly the best movie up to that time in terms of creating a living, breathing future world. The way in which it mixed elements of contemporary culture with fragments of the past and predictions about where things were going is now the template for nearly all future-set movies.
Lauzirika: It’s fully, indelibly defined a dystopian vision of tomorrow that all futuristic films after it have been, and will be, compared against. For me, there are three distinct cinematic futures that simply haven’t been topped in terms of world building: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, David Lynch’s Dune and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
Sammon: It’s been influential on a number of levels. In terms of its hyper-detailing and teeming lived in look, a production design that mixes the old and the new with the familiar and the strange, a graphic sensibility that stands the sophisticated, slightly tongue-in-cheek comic book drawings of Mobius right alongside the realistically engineered extrapolations of visual futurist Syd Mead — well, what you’re left with is a film that’s influenced countless succeeding motion pictures. As well as rock videos, costume designs, even real-world objects like signage and architecture. Furthermore, Blade Runner pointedly touched on themes like overpopulation, mankind’s harm to the natural world, the ethical dimensions of cloning, homelessness, and a whole clutch of other concerns that weren’t exactly on the American radar at the beginning of the Reagan era. All of those themes are still relevant today. So Blade Runner has a pulsing, living life well beyond a movie theater or a home video entertainment center.
Coate: Where does Blade Runner rank among director Ridley Scott’s body of work?
Barsanti: Number one, with a bullet. Nothing else comes close.
Lauzirika: It should come as no surprise that in my opinion, it’s number one.
Sammon: Ranking Blade Runner in Ridley’s canon is a little difficult. Alien seems to have had a broader pop-cultural influence, More people have certainly seen Alien than Blade Runner. And the then-unusual manner in which Alien takes it’s not exactly novel admixture of horror and science-fiction seriously, and weds that to semi realistic characters with near documentary-like performances, and then cocoons its hybrid story line and its somewhat superficial but still believable fictional people within what at the time was a meticulously considered alternate universe, one that pulled in all these different graphic factors while still playing fair with the time-honored rules of cinematic horror and science-fiction and suspense… this was all pretty amazing stuff back in 1979.
On the other hand, I’ve always considered Alien kind of a dry run for Blade Runner. In the way that Blade Runner raises the imagining of Alien’s fictional universe by a whole order of magnitude, while simultaneously crafting a deeper, more challenging set of characters, story elements and emotions. I mean, Alien is essentially a thrill ride, punctuated by some pretty primal, nasty, body-horror elements like the chest burster and the face hugger. But Blade Runner has greater texture, resonance and depth. So I guess purely in terms of weight, Blade Runner tips the scales. I’d put it at number one. Then again, I’m completely prejudiced. That’s why I wrote a book like Future Noir!
Coate: How effective or memorable a hero was Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard and where do you think that performance ranks among his body of work?
Barsanti: Hard to answer, because it’s difficult to compare Blade Runner with, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark or Frantic. In his top five, for sure.
Lauzirika: I actually don’t agree he’s the hero. He’s a killer, a sleaze, and kind of a coward, but he’s on a journey of self-discovery, no matter what you think about his origins. I will say that I think Ford’s performance is far better and nuanced than he gets credit for. Deckard isn’t the most traditionally likable character, but I am intrigued by him throughout the film. I think it’s certainly one of his very best performances.
Sammon: Part of Ridley Scott’s stated intent right at the beginning of pre-production was a to present a densely reasoned speculation on what a future metropolis might look 40 years ahead of 1982, then to tie that future to the stock elements of 1940s film noir. For example, film noir’s elements have always included a femme fatale, like Rachel, who usually brings down an antihero with serious character defects, like Deckard. Harrison’s not a classic hero in this film. At least not initially. He’s a classic antihero.
Ford once told me he considered Deckard to be damaged goods. That shows up in his performance and in the way the character is written. Deckard is isolated, cruel, possibly alcoholic, and emotionally closed off. Ever notice how much he drinks in the film? That’s another standard film noir trait. Deckard has no compunctions about shooting a woman in the back, either, and that ain’t very heroic. I think that’s one of the reasons Blade Runner failed upon its initial release. People went into theaters thinking there were going to see the cheerful insolence of another Han Solo or Indiana Jones, but instead were confronted with a dark, seedy, morose burnout. What’s always been fascinating to me is to watch how Ford manages to come up with the body language and little bits of business that suggests just how flawed Deckard is. He really does give a complex, intelligent, sensitive performance. I think it’s one of Ford’s best. Although Harrison and Ridley clashed so often while they were making the film, particularly over this whole argument of whether or not Deckard was a replicant, that I’m sure Harrison still really hasn’t gained the necessary objectivity to see what a career defining performance Deckard really is.
Coate: How effective or memorable a villain was Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty and where do you think that performance ranks among his body of work?
Lauzirika: I also don’t agree with you that Batty’s the villain. He’s simply trying to survive and protect his family against the cruel system that created them and now wants them dead. That’s heroic to me. But I think it’s fair to say that Hauer steals the movie, capped by his “tears in rain” speech. No small feat with such a tremendous cast. And it’s certainly a high point in his career.
Sammon: I’m not sure Roy Batty ever was the villain of Blade Runner — I think Eldon Tyrell, who plays God with what in effect are superior humans, is really the heavy of the piece. Having said that, Batty is a fascinating guy, and Rutger really rings an amazing number of notes on that character. Roy is childlike, amusing, intelligent, playful, and dangerous. Very dangerous. That’s what I think is finally so unsettling about Roy; he’s really still a kid. An immensely strong seriously intelligent kid who’s been thrust into a world he doesn’t understand. So he’s constantly trying to tweak his reactions to this complicated new reality. And sometimes Roy goes a little too far. By crushing skulls, and letting elderly Chinese scientist freeze to death, and so on and so forth. Yet he is also very charismatic and physically attractive. It’s his unpredictability that really creeps me out, though-you never know how Roy is going to react.
I think that Rutger would be the first person to agree that Roy Batty is his defining performance…at least in terms of worldwide recognition. Rutger’s a very good actor, you know. He’s done great work in a number of different motion pictures, like Olmi’s The Legend of the Holy Drinker. But most people haven’t seen that, and more people remember him from Blade Runner. But I’m pretty sure Rutger is good with that.
Coate: Can you compare and contrast the numerous cuts of Blade Runner? Which version is your favorite?
Barsanti: While the Director’s and Final cuts are probably overall the better movies, I will admit an occasional preference for the original release. No, Scott didn’t want to add in Ford’s narration and the lack of it in the later cuts brings a spooky, ghostly quality to the imagery that isn’t there in the original. But the narration’s hard-boiled tone is actually quite effective at setting the noir mood that Scott was going for, and so doesn’t deserve to be totally discounted. That being said, the tacked-on ending in the original where they escape into the mountains was a monumental misstep.
Lauzirika: Obviously, The Final Cut is my favorite version. For the most part, it represents the best of all the other versions and it finally gave Ridley Scott the chance to make the final polish he wasn’t able to before. There are about 100 picture and edit differences in The Final Cut as compared to the other ones, to say nothing about the new sound mix. But I do have a fondness for the other versions as well, especially the Workprint.
Sammon: Depending on how you approach it, there are anywhere between five to eight versions of Blade Runner floating around out there. Not to mention the numerous Blade Runner fan edits on the Internet, like the White Dragon Cut. I could write a book about Blade Runner’s different versions — and I have! So let me point anyone who’s interested in hearing a more detailed response to your question towards Future Noir.
But in terms of rank, starting from the bottom up, I’d say that the Theatrical Cut is my least favorite version. That’s the one with the voiceover and the bogus happy ending. Then moving up a notch I’d say, The International Cut, which retains the voiceover and happy ending but has a bit more violence and character moments than the theatrical cut. I’d follow that with the Directors Cut, which came out in the early 1990s and dropped the voiceover and the happy ending, but most critically put back in a crucial moment that had been edited out of the theatrical and international cuts.
The Director’s Cut includes a daydream Deckard has while he’s a little drunk and noodling at his piano. He imagines a unicorn galloping in slow-motion through a beautiful forest. Which of course is an image of purity and poetry and beauty, and completely at odds with the dirty, overcrowded, sordid world he lives in. It’s also an image that later ties into the tinfoil unicorn origami sculpture that Gaff leaves for Deckard at the end of the film. That tinfoil unicorn in the Director’s Cut indicates that Gaff knows Deckard’s secret daydreams; since replicants have been buffered with artificial memories, the fact that Gaff knows Deckard’s innermost thoughts strongly suggests that Deckard might be a replicant. However, the unicorn daydream isn’t in the Theatrical or International cuts. So the tinfoil unicorn in those versions that gaff leaves could be interpreted to simply mean that gaff is saying, Hey, man, I was here at your apartment, and I looked around and I realize you have feelings for this thing that looks like a woman called Rachel, so I’ve let her live.
In other words, in the theatrical and international cuts Deckard is probably human. But in the Director’s Cut and Final Cut he might be a replicant. Anyway, my second favorite version of Blade Runner is the Workprint. That’s the work in progress that was screened at the sneak previews in Denver and Dallas audiences in March 1982. The Workprint has bits and pieces of things that still haven’t shown up in any other version, and it also, since it’s not properly color timed or had a final sound mix, is a lot grittier than any other version. For many years the workprint was my favorite shade of Blade Runner. But now I have to say that number one slot has been taken over by the Final Cut.
The Final Cut really is the Blade Runner that Ridley Scott always wanted. It doesn’t have the narration, it doesn’t have the bogus happy ending, it does have the unicorn daydream, and it also incorporates a little cool extra footage that was previously only seen in the Workprint. The Final Cut really is a marvelous restoration of a classic motion picture. And it was overseen by true blue Blade Runner fan Charles de Lauzirika, who did a man’s job of cleaning up and re-editing the film. Lauzirika also produced and directed Dangerous Days, the definitive 3 ½ hour making of documentary on Blade Runner. Bravo, Charlie!
Coate: Do you have any thoughts on the upcoming sequel?
Barsanti: Eager to see it, of course, and glad that Denis Villeneuve, one of the greatest living directors, is handling it, since I don’t think Scott would be able to find that same magic again. But in the end, I almost wish it wasn’t happening. I would rather that studios were looking for ways to make more movies with the same daring and imagination as the original Blade Runner, not just producing more sequels and remakes.
Lauzirika: Lots. But for now, as I’d say with any film, I just hope it’s good. It has a lot to live up to.
Sammon: My biggest concern, which I’m sure I share with many, is that it’s hard to recapture lightning in a bottle. We’ve all been burned by so many bad sequels. Happily, from what I’ve been able to see so far, and given the level of talent and commitment and fidelity to the original involved, in addition to the fact that Ridley is one of the producers, that Hampton Fancher is one of the screenplay writers, that Harrison is back as Rick, that the excellent British cinematographer Roger Deakins has shot Blade Runner 2049, and that the truly talented French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who hops from genre to genre with butterfly feet yet retains a steely, sober gaze, is at the helm of this sequel. Well, given all that, the lights look green at this point. We’ll see. But I can tell you from an insider’s perspective that this was not a sequel done for purely avaricious reasons. There were a lot of hardcore Blade Runner fans involved with Blade Runner 2049, both in front of and behind the camera. I’m rootin’ for ‘em!
Coate: What is the legacy of Blade Runner?
Barsanti: It deserves to be remembered as a visionary spectacle that foresaw first a way to make the future look not just bleak in the manner of 1970s science-fiction but seductively corrupted, and also how our current filmmakers would mix and match genres.
Lauzirika: It’s a film that redefined how we see the future and its intoxicating level of detail and design will probably never be matched in that particular way. After all, when you’re trying to describe something you’ve seen in real life, like cities or weather or pretty much anything visual, and you say, “It was just like Blade Runner,” people know exactly what you mean.
Sammon: Blade Runner remains an intelligent, complex, moving science-fiction film married to real-world concerns, deep drama, complex personalities, and thoughtful subtexts. All of which still strolls hand-in-hand with one of the most astonishingly detailed cinematic worlds ever created for a motion picture. You can’t beat a legacy like that.
Coate: Thank you — Chris, Charles and Paul — for sharing your thoughts on Blade Runner on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of its release.
Selected images copyright/courtesy The Blade Runner Partnership, The Criterion Collection, Embassy Home Entertainment, The Ladd Company, Warner Bros., Warner Home Video.
The primary references for this project were regional newspaper coverage and trade reports published in Boxoffice, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, and the book Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (Paul M. Sammon; Harper Prism; 1996). All figures and data included in this article pertain to the United States and Canada except where stated otherwise.
Don Beelik, Bobby Henderson, Bill Kretzel, Monty Marin, and Cliff Stephenson.
- Philip K. Dick (novel), 1928-1982
- Robert Okazaki (“Howie Lee”), 1902-1985
- Kimiko Hiroshige (“Cambodian Lady”), 1912-1989
- Jordan Cronenweth (Director of Photography), 1935-1996
- Brion James (“Leon Kowalski”), 1945-1999
- Hy Pyke (“Taffey Lewis”), 1935-2006
- Gerry Humphreys (Chief Dubbing Mixer), 1931-2006
- Paul Prischman (Final Cut Associate Producer), 1967-2009
- Morgan Paull (“Holden”), 1944-2012
- Bud Alper (Sound Mixer), 1930-2012
- Sir Run Run Shaw (Executive Producer), 1907-2014
- Bud Yorkin (Executive Producer), 1926-2015
- Jerry Perenchio (Executive Producer), 1930-2017